The following article was published yesterday in the Cape Times, South Africa. It was signed by Judge Dennis Davis, Gilbert Marcus SC, Geoff Budlender SC, Wim Trengove SC, Rob Petersen SC, Prof John Comaroff, Prof Jean Comaroff, Fatima Hassan, Doron Isaacs, Mark Heywood, Jonathan Berger, Shuaib Manjra, Nathan Geffen, Adila Hassim, Pregs Govender, Daniel Mackintosh and Michael Mbikiwa.
Although it distanced itself officially from the failed campaign to have Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu removed as patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has now invited the most prominent supporter of that campaign to address meetings in South Africa as its guest. Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz is known internationally for his furious attacks on all those who want effective peaceful measures against Israel to compel the ending of its military occupation of the West Bank and the removal of annexationist settlements.
In support of the petition for Tutu’s removal, Dershowitz penned a vicious personal attack in the New York press, saying that Tutu’s “ever present grin … masks a long history of ugly hatred toward the Jewish people, the Jewish religion and the Jewish state.” According to Dershowitz, Tutu deserves to be “in the dustbin of history”. “The sad reality”, contends Dershowitz, “is that Bishop Tutu's beneficent look is the new face of the oldest of bigotries.” There is “only one word” to describe Tutu’s motives, he says: “It is called anti-Semitism.” In fact, Dershowitz claims that Tutu’s support for a cultural boycott of Israel “finds its roots in the Nazi ‘Kauft Nicht beim Juden’ campaign of the 1930's.” Dershowitz asserts that “the decent people of South Africa have become aware of Tutu's bigotry”.
Our experience of Tutu has been different. All we have known is his bravery, integrity and sense of fairness. One among the many examples of this is his consistent call that Israel ends its military occupation, that both sides cease to attack civilians, and that a Palestinian state should exist alongside Israel in peace.
The SAZF certainly has the right to meet and to invite Dershowitz to express his views. It is necessary however, in order to understand the person whom they have unfortunately chosen to invite, that we examine his political writing and speech.
Dershowitz is an advocate for collective punishment of Palestinians, defending what the respected Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) has called a “policy of mass demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories”. Some of the targets of this policy are the families of those suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks against Israelis. As B’Tselem notes, “This form of punishment is carried out primarily against individuals who are only suspected offenders.” In his recent book The Case for Israel Dershowitz calls this illegal practice “moral and calibrated” but notes that it “plays poorly on television”.
Beyond home demolitions, Dershowitz proposed that Israel should destroy entire Palestinian villages. In a 2002 article in the Jerusalem Post he advised a brief cessation of Israeli retaliations, after which the “first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings. The response will be automatic… and there will be no discretion.”
Dershowitz has stated that the goal of such measures is a peace agreement entailing an end to the Israeli military occupation, and the subsequent creation of a Palestinian state. However, his real commitment to these outcomes is lacking. In his 2008 book The Case Against Israel’s Enemies, he proposes removing only those Israeli settlements “in the heart of the West Bank”, and suggests the need thereafter for “some military presence”. Writing in The Wall Street Journal in January of this year he claimed that the settlements are not illegal and that some of the West Bank “rightfully belongs to Israel.” This view contradicts United Nations Security Council Resolution 465 which clearly states that the settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, “have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention” and are a serious obstruction to peace.
Further, Dershowitz has proposed that terrorist attacks be responded to by immediate and permanent grabs of Palestinian land by the state of Israel. “Every act of terrorism will result in an automatic and permanent decrease of a specific portion of the land mass that eventually would constitute the Palestinian state.” This land “would be immediately annexed to Israel and be deemed a permanent part of the Jewish state”.
Terrorist attacks against Israelis are totally unjustifiable, and we oppose them absolutely. Wednesday’s deplorable bus-bombing in Jerusalem is a case in point. This does not change the fact that Dershowitz advocates collective punishment and reprisals expressly prohibited by international conventions.
Dershowitz is an apologist for torture, albeit that he has suggested, in an essay titled ‘Tortured Reasoning’, that it be regulated by “means of a warrant or some other mechanism”.
As a professor of criminal law Dershowitz often uses legal argument to justify Israeli misconduct. His commitment to international law is highly questionable. Speaking in Israel on 22 May 2010 he said, “The judges in the international tribunes are corrupt. They are appointed by political leaders to do their state’s bidding… My job today is to delegitimize international law, to attack it to the core. There must be one standard for all. Until that day happens, I will be its sworn enemy. I prefer no international law to unfair international law.”
His commitment to democracy is similarly conditional. As the Egyptian revolution unfolded Dershowitz, interviewed on CNN, evinced a deep skepticism regarding the pending ouster of the dictator Mubarak, on the grounds that it may not serve Israeli or US interests.
We are pleased to hear that neither the Kaplan Centre at UCT nor the Law Faculty (as was earlier mooted) will now be associating itself with Dershowitz by hosting him.
Dershowitz is an advocate and a propagandist. He has a questionable record of respect for academic freedom. He tried to suppress publication of a book by Norman Finkelstein that critiqued the The Case for Israel. On 22 December 2004 Dershowitz wrote to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to “do anything to help prevent this impending tragedy”, i.e. the publication of Finkelstein’s book by the University of California Press. Dershowitz initially denied that he wrote a letter to Schwarzenegger but later admitted that he did. Schwarzenegger declined to suppress the book.
In the wake of the publication of Finkelstein’s book Dershowitz waged a campaign to deny Finkelstein tenure at De Paul University. In 2007 Finkelstein was denied tenure. That many find Finkelstein tendentious or do not share his views is beside the point.
Dershowitz has shown particular intolerance for Jewish and Israeli critics of Israeli policy. When he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Tel Aviv University in May 2010, he named and lashed out at Tel Aviv academics who have called for a boycott until Israel ends its military occupation, causing some eighty Tel Aviv academics to accuse him of incitement.
He also grossly misrepresented the judicial record of Judge Richard Goldstone (whom he denounced as “an evil, evil man” and “an absolute traitor”) in retribution for the Goldstone Report on Gaza.
In October 2005 Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “The fault for all civilian casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies exclusively with the Palestinian terrorists”. However, speaking at a symposium two days after his attack on dissenting Israeli academics, he said, “Our greatest enemies are not the Islamic extremists. They help our case in many ways... The problem is Jews. Jews and Israelis.”
These two statements seem contradictory, but taken together they explain Dershowitz’s agenda. It is not the welfare of Israelis and Palestinians. It is the protection of the Israeli government, and its military occupation. In making that case the extremists, who kill people, are very useful to him, as Dershowitz himself insists. The greatest danger to his project is the truth, and those who speak it.